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By Federico Valiente Bolaines (EMBA 2021)

I like to consider myself a foodie, a traveler and a marketer. I’m originally from El Salvador but have been fortunate to live in all sorts of exciting places: South Bend, IN (the football games are exciting!), New York City, London, Washington D.C. and, these days, I live in Dallas, TX. I work for one of the largest food companies from Latin America, CMI Foods, where I lead the marketing function for the Pollo Campero brand in the United States. Pollo Campero is an international chicken chain originally from Guatemala with a cult-like following. As you can tell from my one-line introduction, I follow my passions.

Pursuing an Executive MBA at Kellogg

In addition to being a foodie, traveler and marketer, I’m also a lifelong learner. An Executive MBA program had been on my to-do list for a couple of years as I tried balancing my need to learn and my need to find new ways to add value to my organization. I was interested in a program that had the reputation, the network, the international experience, the academic rigor and the focus on the soft skills I was looking for; Kellogg more than checked off all the boxes. Pollo Campero and CMI were completely supportive of my decision to begin my EMBA journey so I began my biweekly commute from Dallas to Chicago in September of last year.

When I started the program, along with Cohort 120, I immediately felt at home. Within days of Launch Week, I was surprised by how quickly I was getting to know everyone, and in the 11 months since, I developed strong bonds and friendships I’m sure will last a lifetime. I’ve learned from both the faculty and my classmates; the content was insightful and practical and everything I learned from Friday to Saturday, I was able to take back to work with me on Monday. I especially enjoyed the Design Your Journey sessions, a key part of the Kellogg EMBA program, which focused on learning more about yourself and leading with your values and purpose. The first year went by in a flash. I could already feel the program had changed me at a personal and professional level–but I didn’t know how much.

Continuing to grow during COVID-19

Fast-forward to the COVID-19 crisis and the world has changed forever. The human toll has been heartbreakingly high and it looks like we have a long road ahead of us. As I’ve tried to adapt to the new reality, Kellogg has kept me grounded. During the first weeks of the pandemic, Kellogg’s online co-curricular offerings were refreshing, and nourished me with information and insights I found both profound and useful as I navigated through the crisis. Through the co-curricular experience, I heard from restaurant leaders in China and there was a tremendous amount of content around leadership, values and how to thrive during crises. Adapting to the online learning has been easier than expected and I’ve benefitted from the new class dynamics by getting to know more people in the program from other cohorts and countries.

As I look back at the last 25 weeks since the pandemic and the economic fallout in the U.S., I can’t help but feel good about how I’ve responded to it. At a professional level, I was able to mobilize my team and collaborate in record speed with the other functions and external partners to bring new solutions that would help us thrive during the crisis. I led from my values and with empathy—I was more thoughtful and intentional with my actions and decisions. We took care of our business, our people, guests and our communities. At a personal level, I’ve tried to be a source of support, positivity and joy to my family and friends as I’ve juggled work and school. When I look back at what’s transpired and how, I can’t help but think that Kellogg has had 100% to do with how I’ve responded.

Kellogg continues to be a source of support and growth for me. The scope of my role at work changed in the last couple of weeks; I now oversee the R&D function for Pollo Campero (foodie alert!) in the U.S. in addition to marketing. When I heard about the news, Kellogg’s CMC was one the first places I reached out to get information about R&D frameworks and processes to help me in my new role. The CMC Library team got back to me in a matter of hours with plenty of useful information.

Looking forward

As I sit here just over halfway through my EMBA program, I feel a sense of gratitude and excitement. I’m grateful for this opportunity, my experience thus far, and all the people who’ve supported me along the way. I’m also extremely excited about what’s to come and what’s left to learn and grow from my cohort and program. I know I’ll carry with me not just the business knowledge I’m accumulating, but also great friendships, a more refined way of viewing and analyzing the world, a values-based approach to my professional and personal lives and the resilience I discovered in me with the help of Kellogg.